Gaza summit: Cairo conference seeks path to regional de-escalation

Leaders and officials from nations around the world addressed the gathering with a unified voice

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi delivers a speech during the Cairo Summit for Peace on Saturday. Abdulla Al Neyadi / UAE Presidential Court
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Foes, former adversaries, and allies in the Middle East convened at the large table in the blue-lit conference room in Cairo to discuss the Gaza war on Saturday.

It was a rare moment of alignment in the conflict-prone region but a mandatory one to head off a wider war and prevent escalation that could embroil countries and borders already bristling with tensions.

Leaders and officials from Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Greece, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other nations addressed the gathering with a unified voice, setting the tone for de-escalation.

The current war began on October 7 when Hamas militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, launching the deadliest attack against the country since its establishment, killing at least 1,400 people.

Israel has hit back with a bombing campaign, hammering the besieged Palestinian enclave, neighbourhood after neighbourhood and killing more than 4,100 Palestinians, mainly civilians.

The region appeared on the verge of a broader conflict as the Israeli campaign raged.

“It will take concerted diplomacy – and considerable luck – to prevent this,” the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote on Friday.

“An escalation in the conflict would upturn a fragile period of regional calm,” it added.

World leaders attend Cairo peace summit

World leaders attend Cairo peace summit

In recent years, diplomatic initiatives have gained momentum in a region frequently plagued by conflicts and differing world views.

While the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain established ties with Israel, several Gulf countries reopened embassies in Tehran. Since March, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran has witnessed a thaw, with the hope of decreasing tensions.

Syria was returning to the Arab fold after more than a decade of isolation, while Qatar and its ally Turkey repaired their relations with Egypt.

However, the current war has the potential to disrupt these recent trends towards regional co-operation and joint projects like the Middle East Economic Corridor, announced at the last G20 summit.

Earlier this week, Iran-backed militias attacked US forces across the region. Meanwhile, in the south of Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters have been trading border fire with the Israeli military.

“It's like breaking bread at gunpoint,” an Arab diplomat said of the Gaza summit.

“But a necessary one to avoid a far-ranging bloodshed,” he told The National.

Updated: October 22, 2023, 8:16 AM